Pavelec's Performance: A Season Changer?

Kevin McCartney
November 14 2013 09:54AM

Ondrej Pavelec's recent stretch of games has improved his individual numbers to rarely seen highs for the often criticized netminder. His start to the season included some stellar performances in losing efforts, but the wheels fell off in his first back-to-back against Minnesota and Dallas. A Montoya shutout led us down a familiar road of asking whether Pavelec could ever be a starting quality goalie in the National Hockey League.

Fast forward to the present, and a stretch of three wins that included a shutout and a 41 save performance has even noted Post-Pavelec Stress Syndrome sufferer Travis Hrubeniuk singing Pav's praises. Going into what will no doubt be his 17th start of the season on Friday, Pavelec has a .913 save percentage, including .924 at even strength. It's still a tad below average for a starting goaltender in the league, but it's miles past where he's been in recent years.

Inside we'll look at how Pav's recent league average goaltending would have affected the Jets in years past, and what we can expect going forward.

The Problem

In truth, the rumblings began in pre-season, spurred on by ESPN's Top 25 goalie list, which notably excluded Pavelec and invited perhaps the first criticism of his career from within the organization. 

When asked about his nationally spurned netminder, Claude Noel responded:

“Judging from his numbers, it’s probably fair,” Noel said. “Until those numbers change, players get ranked a lot of times according to numbers, and it’s probably fair.” 

We looked into it, showing his save percentage, rate of Quality Starts, and Blow-Up rate combined into roughly an AHL call-up level goalie (or what's called a replacement level goalie). The ups and downs of Pavelec's 'big-game' reputation pushed us further to talk to a goalie scout. I mean, seriously, these twine-obsessed, blue paint dwelling creatures are a mystery that require translation.

So we talked to Justin Goldman, founder of The Goalie Guild and USA Hockey Goalie Scout. He gave us a ton of insight, from Pavelec's excessive movement, to his active hands, to his rebound control problems coming from always being in motion when the puck hits him. But he also gave us hope that goalie coach Wade Flaherty could help him settle his athleticism and gain that NHL level control. 

What Does .913 Buy You?

The best season of Pavelec's career came in Atlanta's last year. In 58 games, he posted a .914 save percentage. It was supposed to be a sign of development for the then 23 year old. 

Instead, he has managed to post two seasons in Winnipeg below his back-up quality .907 career save percentage. 

If we could re-write the Jets' first two seasons with Pavelec's current stats, what would change?

 

Actual

We Wish

2012/13

 

 

EV Goals Against

92

81

PP Goals Against

25

22

Wins

21

24 (Est.)

2011/12

 

 

EV Goals Against

136

125

PP Goals Against

48

49

Wins

29

31 (Est.)

For Wins, I've used an estimate based on an old formula of 5 goals to a win. I remember reading that, and it's a very conservative number. I can't find the source of that number, so I leave it open for debate.

If that estimation is at all correct, Pavelec at .913 would have put the Jets into 6th in the East last year - well inside the playoffs. I started this exercise with whimsy, but I can feel the rage of 2012 surging. I get the same feeling every time I think about Ang Lee's Hulk. It could have been so much better!!

In 2011/12, things were a little further out of reach, and Pavelec had a much better season. (Anyone else have Kevin Cheveldayoff's quote about Pav liking the heavy workload ringing in their ears right now? You should. He doesn't.) Seven short handed goals against, and a larger deficit between the Jets and 8th means that 11 fewer even strength goals doesn't do a whole lot in the grand scheme of that season. Instead of ending 11th with 84 points, they would have finished 10th with 88 - still four points back of Ottawa.

Put together, the major change is a more respectable franchise. Pavelec would be in that Top 25 by ESPN, the Jets would be picked outside the basement of the West by pre-season prognosticators, and a franchise second playoff appearance would go a long way toward renewing fan excitement. 

What Can We Expect?

I think we often consider Pavelec to be streaky, but in fact, his streaks are extemely short lived. One period to the next he can be a different goaltender, and he rarely strings together more than a week of solid hockey. In fact, he's kind of consistent about his poor play. 

In December of 2011, Pavelec turned in the best month of his life, going .939 in 11 games. Otherwise, Pavelec has never had a calendar month in which he posted better than a .909 while playing for Winnipeg. That's 11 out of 12 calendar months sort of hovering around his career .907 average.

His recent shutout against Nashville was his first since March 1, 2012 - 72 games ago. He doesn't really do the 'great then terrible' routine.

In other words, we should know whether Pavelec has quieted his game, found some focus, and turned over a new leaf by the end of November. For Pavelec, it may be the difference between a long career with the Jets and buy-out speculation over the summer. For the team, it can mean the difference between a shot at the playoffs and being that team everyone else circles on the calendar as 2 points.

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Kevin is the Managing Editor of Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart or @nhljetsnation
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#1 Rhys Finnick
November 14 2013, 10:59AM
Trash it!
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Pavelec will not turn his game around. As Goldman pointed out, Pavelec plays a risky, acrobatic style. He is bound for some hot and cold streaks, but mostly cold, because he's more bad than good.

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#2 Travis Hrubeniuk
November 14 2013, 10:32AM
Trash it!
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props

"Post-Pavelec Stress Syndrome". I like it.

Not going to lie I was expecting a couple more wins in each year, but I'll take what I can get. The only questions I have would come down to variables that really aren't measurable, like how could an improved save percentage/performance result in that "timely" save, momentum swings or just playing differently due to increased confidence in your goaltender.

All in all, great work Kevin.

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